Review: “Modern Bulgaria: Problems and Tasks in Building an Advanced Socialist Society” – Todor Zhivkov

“Modern Bulgaria: Problems and Tasks in Building an Advanced Socialist Society” is an anthology of writings and speeches by the Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov, who served as General Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party from 1954-89.

Most of the chapters are repetitive in style and content like so many other books published in the USSR or Eastern Europe, albeit this book was published in the U.S. This doesn’t mean the book is not worth reading. On the contrary, I think Zhivkov, while no theoretician, makes several cogent arguments about issues facing socialist Bulgaria and the world communist movement.

In “Problems of Our Revolution and the Fundamental Laws of Social Development,” the first chapter in the book and an excerpt from the Report to the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party to the 7th Congress in 1958, Zhivkov discusses the nature of national tendencies in socialist revolution. Zhivkov seems to take aim at unnamed “tendencies” in the international communist movement that “exaggerate the role and importance of national traits, tendencies that underrate, deny, and, in the long run, revise some basic principles of proletarian revolution and socialist construction” (p. 6). Quoting from Lenin’s “State and Revolution,” Zhivkov argues that “The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat” (p. 6). Zhivkov cites two examples from socialist development in Bulgaria to highlight this important point.

Firstly was the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry in the Fatherland Front. Quoting from Georgi Dimitrov, Zhivkov writes how socialism was achieved in Bulgaria not under the slogan of Soviet power but under that of establishing a people’s democratic rule. “In the conditions then existing in Bulgaria,” Zhivkov writes, “this slogan facilitated the alliance of the working class not only with the poor but also with the middle peasants in the struggle against fascism. It helped to neutralize part of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie and created conditions under which some of its representatives could take part in the struggle. As a result, after the victory of the revolution, our proletarian dictatorship was established not in the form of soviets, but in that of a people’s democracy in which representatives of the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois parties participated” (p. 8).

Secondly was the development of socialist agriculture in Bulgaria. Instead of rapid collectivization and the nationalization of all land socialist Bulgaria established cooperative farms. “Our co-operative farms differ from the collective farms in the Soviet Union mainly in that the land was not nationalized. The co-operative farmers have retained private ownership of the land they held when they joined the co-operative groups and they receive rent for their holdings” (p. 9). Zhivkov is quick to clarify the meaning and role of rent in socialist Bulgaria: “It would be wrong, however, to identify this rent with absolute capitalist rent, which is based on the monopolistic private ownership of land and on the capitalist method of production. Actually, the rent that exists in the co-operative farms is a new economic category, since it is not an expression of relations of exploitation. It constitutes a relatively minor part of the income of the co-operative farms and is distributed among the farmers on the basis of the acreage of land they brought into the co-operative rather than on the amount of labor they perform” (p. 8). Moreover, the cooperative farms “are constantly developing, and along with their organizational, economic and financial stabilization, the farmers consciously and voluntarily are gradually reducing the rent or abolishing it altogether. Thus, when conditions are ripe, the land becomes public property, more socialist in character, more like collective farms” (p. 8).

These are two examples Zhivkov uses to demonstrate how national characteristics and conditions influence the political forms but not the essence of the transition from capitalism to communism.

In “People’s Culture, Socialist Culture,” a speech delivered at the concluding session of the First Congress of Bulgarian Culture in 1967, Zhivkov makes some interesting and valuable points on the development of socialist culture. Zhivkov criticizes the tendency to see Bulgaria’s history as all bad until the socialist revolution. According to Zhivkov, while many people suffered during Bulgaria’s 1,300 history of foreign and domestic monarcho-fascist oppression, it is important to incorporate into Bulgaria’s new socialist culture the democratic and progressive elements of the Bulgarian people’s history. Zhivkov continues this theme in “Party Work and the Youth”. “We need to assess Bulgarian history from a Marxist-Leninist point of view. The popular masses are the creators of history, and the historical figures who were leaders of the people and the country in various periods were the spokesmen of the people’s social aspirations and tendencies. A Marxist assessment of the objective role of Bulgaria’s eminent figures is therefore essential. Our predecessors who lived in this countryside, at these crossroads, fought selflessly over centuries under extremely difficult conditions to preserve the Bulgarian state, to save the Slavs from assimilation. This was a mighty struggle involving prodigious efforts, great sacrifices to save Bulgaria from the threats of the modern Byzantine Empire, of the Franks and the other barbarians who made frequent incursions into our lands. Yet we do not emphasize this” (p. 39).

In “The October Revolution and the Historic Destiny of the Bulgarian People,” an article published in Pravda in 1967, Zhivkov spares no criticism for the Chinese. “The Bulgarian Communist Party is well aware of the fact that the principal condition for bridling the imperialists and frustrating their plans is the unity and cohesion of the countries of the world socialist system, of the international communist movement and of the progressive forces all over the world. That is why the Bulgarian communists and the entire Bulgarian people are profoundly indignant at the actions of Mao Tse-Tung and his adventurous group. We find no justification for any action directed against the Soviet Union, against the CPSU, the international communist movement and against our unity and cohesion in the face of our sworn enemy. We cannot assume a position of ‘neutrality’ as if it were a matter of ordinary difference between two parties and not of frenzied slanderous attacks by the Chinese leaders against the Soviet Union and the entire world communist movement, attacks which betray the interests of communism everywhere, including China” (pp. 35-36).

Because I know little of Bulgaria I thought the book was interesting and that Zhivkov makes some valuable points about socialism and communism. The book is definitely of historical value. But unless you are fascinated with Bulgaria or Zhivkov I probably wouldn’t recommend reading it. Besides a few valid points most of the chapters are extremely repetitive and can probably just be skipped over entirely.

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